The World of Suzie Wong
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|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The World of Suzie Wong is a 1957 novel written by Richard Mason. The main characters are Robert Lomax, a young British artist living in Hong Kong, and Suzie Wong, the title character, a Chinese woman who works as a prostitute. The novel has been adapted into a play, spawned two unofficial sequels, a film and a ballet.
Robert Lomax is a young Englishman who, after completing his National Service, decides to go and work on a plantation in British Malaya. During his time in Malaya Lomax decides as an experiment to pursue a new career as an artist for a year.
Lomax visits Hong Kong in search of inspiration for his paintings. He checks into the Nam Kok Hotel, not realizing, at first, that it is an unofficial brothel catering mainly to British and American sailors. However, this only makes the hotel more charming in Lomax's opinion and a better source of subject matter for his paintings.
Lomax quickly befriends most of the hotel's bargirls but is most fascinated by the archetypal "hooker with a heart of gold", Suzie Wong. Wong previously introduced herself to him as Wong Mee-ling, a rich virgin whose father had five houses and more cars than she could count, and initially pretended not to recognize him at the hotel. Lomax had originally decided that he would not sleep with any of the bargirls at the hotel because he would be living with them for a long time and did not want to put a strain on their relationships. However, it soon emerges that Suzie Wong is interested in him, not as a customer but as a serious boyfriend. Although Suzie Wong becomes the kept woman of two other men and Robert Lomax briefly becomes attracted to a young British nurse, Lomax and Wong are eventually reunited and the novel ends happily.
Film, TV and theatrical adaptations
The novel was adapted into a stage production and was first produced in 1958 by David Merrick and starred William Shatner and France Nuyen. Tsai Chin played the title role in the West End 1959 production. The book was later adapted into the 1960 film, directed by Richard Quine which stars William Holden, Nancy Kwan, Sylvia Syms, and Michael Wilding. Ray Stark was the Executive Producer.
In March 2006 a dance version by Stephen Jefferies, entitled Suzie Wong, was premiered by the Hong Kong Ballet.
In 2010, scenes from Stephen Jefferies’ ballet were used by director Brian Jamieson in the film biography To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey, to draw parallels between the screen character of Suzie Wong and the life of actress Nancy Kwan, who played her in the 1960 film.
In 2008 Sebastian Gerard wrote an unofficial sequel For Goodness Sake : the Afterlife of Suzie Wong, ISBN 978-0-615-19055-6. The novel is set in 1998 Hong Kong, forty-seven years after the original events that occur in Richard Mason's book. Gerard's novel explores the experience of Dr. Marco Podesta, a Vietnam War veteran who is in Hong Kong for research. The book is Gerard's interpretation of what might have happened after the happy ambiguous ending from the film, in which, unlike the novel, ends with Suzie and Robert walking off into the sunset together. Gerard's novel speculates that there might have been a real Robert and Suzie who were the inspiration for the story and only through them could we know if such an improbable romance could have sustained.
There is also an unofficial modern interpretation of the World of Suzie Wong by Leon Pang written in 2010 entitled Suzie ISBN 978-0-9566137-0-7. One of the characters in the book takes on the name of Suzie Wong in an attempt to latch onto the fame of the original. The novel explores sixty years of changes in Hong Kong, and themes include poverty, the rise of China, employment instability in the world in 2008, outsourcing and the failings of capitalism.
Locations from the novel
The Nam Kok Hotel featured in the story is based on the Luk Kwok Hotel on Gloucester Road in Wan Chai, where Mason stayed, although the building is now more modern, the site having been redeveloped in the 1980s. Also, unlike the hotel in the book, the modern hotel is not a pseudo-brothel but is one of many smaller smart hotels on Hong Kong Island.